|Mice by Arthur Rackham, 1919|
Once upon a time, in Hungary, there lived an Emperor whose wife had a gold star on her brow, and his daughter the same. Tragedy struck the family, and the mother was taken before her time. Before she died, she called her husband to her. She begged a promise from him: that if he should ever remarry, the second wife must also have a star upon her brow. With that, she died. After a suitable period of mourning, the Emperor desired to marry again. Honoring the wishes of his late wife, he undertook a search of his domain to find all of the eligible young ladies with stars on their brows. Yet, "none such was to be found, and at last the Emperor, with the assent of his minister, determines to marry his daughter." He proposes this to the girl and she flees from in revulsion. Taking refuge with her Grandmother, this lad offers the following advice: she must assent to the marriage, but seek to delay it. She should return to her father and say that she requires a dress of silk so fine that it can be fit into a nutshell. So home goes the girl, and, believing that such a dress can never be found, confidently agrees to marry her father when the dress is found. Before sunset the next day there is a knock at her door. It is her father and the head seamstress. The latter bears before her a silver tray, upon which is a single walnut. Commanding his daughter to open the nut, the Emperor presents her with a dress of silk contained within the shell. The wedding will take place in three weeks, declares the Emperor. The girl returns to her Grandmother, describing the silken dress. After some thought the old one now advises her that she must agree to marry her father only on the condition that he provide her with a dress made of spun silver, so fine that it too will fit in a nutshell. And the girl makes this demand of her father, and the Emperor agrees. Before the sun has set two days later, there is a knock on her door. It is the Emperor and the seamstress, with a walnut on a silver tray. Opening the nut, the Emperor's daughter finds inside a dress. It has been woven of silver cloth, of thread spun from silver. Her father bows to her and announces that the wedding will take place in two weeks. Again the girl returns to her Grandmother, and again the lady advises that she ask for a dress of precious metal, this time, gold. Sure that such a dress can never be produced, the Emperor's daughter returns home. She tells her father that she will marry him, as soon as the dress of gold is given her. Before the sun has set three days later, the Emperor presents his daughter with the dress. The wedding will take place one week later, he tells her. At her wits end, the girl seeks counsel a final time from her Grandmother. Now the dame changes her tactics, proposing that her grand daughter request a a "dress of mouse skins". On the evening before the wedding is scheduled, there is a knock on the girl's door. It is the Emperor, carrying with him a dress made from the skins of mice. His daughter accepts the dress and says that "she wishes to bathe in a tub and wants two ducks." These are brought to her. The girl bathes, changes into her mouse skin dress, and puts the ducks into the tub. Leaving the birds splashing happily in the tub, with her walnut full of three dresses, she climbs out her window, and runs away. It is some time before the servants, who are waiting outside the door, realize that they have been tricked. By this time, it is too late. The girl is far away, and has curled up to sleep for the night in a hollow tree. It happened that the prince of that kingdom was out hunting the next day. Coming upon a girl dressed in a mouse skin dress, asleep in a tree on his property, her orders that she be brought back to the palace and put to work as a servant girl. So she is taken to the palace and given a flock of geese to tend. The other servants call her Aschenbrödel. Soon, the prince announces that he is going to hold a feast. Many guest fill the dining hall, and Aschenbrödel manages to leave her geese and change into her silk dress. She attends the feast and all can see the star on her brow. "Her beauty draws all eyes towards her. [The] prince wants to know whence she comes." She tells him that is from Cizma-Grad, Boot Town. He has never heard of this place. "At the second féte, she says she comes from Legen-Grad, Burned-Down- Town. For the third night of feasting, Aschenbrödel appears in her gown of gold. The prince demands to know where she is from. She says it's a place called Sablya-Grad, Sabre Town. Again they dance and the "prince slips a ring on her finger whilst dancing with her, unnoticed. When the evening ends, the girl is nowhere to be found. The prince has become besotted with her, and cannot be consoled at her loss. He "falls ill with love and longing, and craves to eat crumbled bread soaked in milk." This order is conveyed to the cook, who begins to knead the dough. Aschenbrödel, who has befriended the cook, offers to take over this task. She has by now discovered the ring, which she carefully hides in the dough. When the loaf has been baked, Aschenbrödel herself crumbles it and fills a bowlful with milk. A serving girl carries it upstairs, and, at the first bite, the prince finds the ring. He calls for the cook, who at first claims that it is she who has made the milk toast. Drawing out the ring, he asks who else has been in the kitchen. Aschenbrödel is brought forth in her mouse skin dress. The prince recognizes her at once, and proposes marriage. She accepts and he is cured. She now opens her walnut shell and displays the three dresses. They are married the same day.
From Cox, Tabulations Number 131, p.129
Notes: Here is an usual story. The Follett Worldwide Dictionary of German defines asche as ashes, and aschenlegen as to burn to ashes. The name Aschenbrödel is defined as,"Cinderella".
The three dresses are quite common, but the final gown or cloak is generally either cat skin, wild animal skin, or feather of many birds. I have heard anecdotal evidence that in Eastern Europe, mice are the animals that fill the role which the Easter Bunny does in the USA, with chocolate mice, etc.
Montessori Connection: Biology/Rodents/Rodentia myomorpha/Mus musculus, the house mouse
1. Read this story and notice what kind of dress Aschenbrödel asks for.
2. Research mice and learn how many species there are. Try Maisy's Nature Walk: A Maisy First Science Book or In a Backyard (Small Worlds) or
4. Make a list of five fiction books that you have read, or plan to read, that have mice characters. Example: Desperaux; Stuart Little, the Narnia Books, the Redwall Series.